Turkish Foreign Minister Wrong About Lebanon

Article Summary
In a recent visit to Tehran, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglou made what some considered hasty projections about the possibility of Sunni-Shiite strife erupting in Lebanon. According to Sateh Noureddine, these assertions have no basis in Lebanese reality, as most Sunnis and Shiites have no desire to engage in fresh conflict and have, in fact, sought to distance themselves from current regional confrontations. Thus, Noureddine says, Davutoglou has revealed himself to be out of his depth when it comes to Lebanese politics.

It is perhaps one of the worst and strangest predictions ever made regarding Lebanon’s future,  especially since it came from a supposedly intelligent and thoughtful official. Moreover, this official represents a state that is supposedly intimately involved in the affairs of the Lebanese people. It is a state that has played—and still plays—important roles in drawing together the views of Lebanese politicians and preventing clashes  among them.

In his visit to Tehran last week [on January 4] Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglou made several premature assertions regarding the situation in Lebanon. These statements were unreasonable, inconsiderate and careless, and had only one conclusion: Lebanon is headed toward an inevitable clash between the Sunnis and Shiites—similar to the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and complementing Syria’s existing crisis.

These positions were taken during a discussion between the Turkish minister and officials in Tehran, in which he urged the latter to change its political policies vis-a-vis the three Arab countries, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Davutoglou also urged Iran not to preempt what he described as Sunni resurgence throughout the Arab world. According to him, this Sunni resurgence passes through Turkey. Palestinian leaders have held similar convictions in the past, illustrated by their assertions that the road to Jerusalem passes through Jounieh.

Turkey’s discussion with Tehran came out of a keenness to maintain the existing good relations between the two countries, which today constitute the two poles of the Islamic world. The debate served as a warning to Tehran to abandon its bad policies, and to hold back from moving forward on a collision course with the Sunni Arab popular majority that has become especially wary of Iran. This apprehension is not solely the result of US sedition, as Iran’s allies and supporters may believe.

So far, it appears that Turkey’s advice to Tehran is not linked to any assessment that Tehran is to blame for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s reckless policy against his Sunni opponents. Similarly, Turkey has not claimed that Tehran is behind the foolish policy pursued by the Syrian regime against its rivals. Turkey has also not presumed that Iran is behind Hezbollah’s meaningless strategy of dissolving the former Lebanese parliamentary majority and replacing it with a hybrid alternative.

However, Turkey’s shift from giving advice to asserting that the Lebanese [state of affairs] is similar to that in Iraq and Syria speaks ill of Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites. It also denies—staying true to the old Turkish habit—the status and role of Christians in Lebanon, though it is true that today their role may seem diminished given the modesty of Christian political and religious leaders. But the Lebanese Christians have played, and will always play, a more significant role than those in Iraq or Syria. The role of Lebanese Christians is still essential to prevent Lebanon from plunging into the quagmire of sectarian insurrection, even though a few Christian symbols had played a part in igniting it! While it is true that there are Lebanese Shiite and Sunni groups and parties who would support, or lament the death of, anybody from their respective sect, the vast majority of these groups’ supporters are actually unconcerned about the insurrectionist events taking place in Iraq. They also feel a total detachment from the crisis under way in Syria, and believe that impending democracy in Syria will be a blessing to Lebanon—and a much-awaited one at that. The establishment of Syrian democracy would signal that the elder brother, Syria, has developed and matured, and that it will refrain from interfering in Lebanese affairs. It would also serve as a driving force for the betterment of Lebanese democracy, which the people of Lebanon desire.

Minister Davutoglou’s assessment of the civil and sectarian state of affairs in Lebanon was in vain. The civil framework in place in Lebanon prevents the Lebanese from engaging in sectarian strife. Although some Lebanese factions may be eager to engage in sectarian clashes, the idea is certainly not widely supported among Sunni, Shiite, Druze or Christian audiences. This owes to the fact that memories of civil war are still fresh and because the situation in Iraq and Syria is, day by day, becoming less comparable to that in Lebanon.

Sateh Noureddine is a regular contributor to As-Safir.

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